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KU Football in worse shape now than 2014

Despite the popular narrative, David Beaty is leaving the program in worse shape than when he inherited it - and that’s saying something after Charlie Weis.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

When the news of David Beaty’s firing came down on Sunday, I saw take after take that stated that the Kansas Jayhawks had finally started to improve during David Beaty’s tenure. All season, there was the countless on-air pronouncements that he should be given more time. One specific example was late in the fourth quarter against West Virginia, when the ESPN crew spent several minutes saying Beaty needed to be back for 2019.

The main rationale given has always been that the program is definitely much improved since he took it over in 2015. SB Nation said it:

So it’s not like Beaty has done that much worse. And the program he inherited was, somehow, in even worse shape than the one he’d leave behind.

There were Twitter statements in support of this idea.

You can find instances of this all across the interwebs, even from former players.

Here’s the thing: they were all wrong.

Sure, the record is improved this year, with Kansas already having 3 wins this season to match the total number of wins in the prior 3 seasons combined. However, Beaty’s overall record in nearly 4 seasons was 6-39, while Charlie Weis matched the same 6 wins in 17 fewer games.

The Kansas defense is a turnover machine, and Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert lead a talented RB core that should be able to lead this team next season if the offensive line is improved (where have we heard that before?). But this a senior-laden team, with many of the most important contributors set to leave Lawrence forever after this season.

From the defense, we are losing big contributors like Joe Dineen Jr., Keith Loneker Jr, Daniel Wise, and Shakial Taylor. From the offense, we lose Steven Sims Jr, Ryan Schadler, Alex Fontana and Peyton Bender. Gabriel Rui is gone this year as well. That is a lot of productive players that have heavily contributed to any of the success we have had on the field this season.

Add in the fact that it took lots of turnover luck against very bad teams in Central Michigan (S&P+: 123, Sagarin: 130) and Rutgers (S&P+: 126, Sagarin: 134) in order for the Jayhawks to collect wins there. And, TCU had to lose several big playmakers for the Jayhawks to squeak out a win, so it’s hard to say definitively that there has been any real improvement this season.

But even if you concede that there has been some improvement this season, the losses of these seniors are going to be hard to replace next season without an infusion of talent.

That leads us to the 2019 recruiting class. You can give me all the excuses that you want about how David Beaty was hamstrung this season without a clear indication that he would be back. The lack of a recruiting class was a concern back before Sheahon Zenger got fired, it was still an issue when Jeff Long said that David Beaty would coach the season, and filling out a recruiting class with good prospects is a strategy that has been used to save multiple jobs in the past. It is absolutely possible to recruit while you are on the hot seat, and if we had more than one commitment, it would have been a lot harder to show Beaty the door.

But when we talk about the state of the program, we are really talking about the future. When Beaty was hired, it was well documented that he was going to have a tough time filling out a roster. Even the most impatient fans assumed that it was going to take 4-5 years to get back to a full complement of scholarships. But in order to earn the patient support of the fanbase, Beaty needed to show a coherent plan to correct the scholarship situation. It was going to (and still will) take discipline and forethought to carefully navigate the high school recruiting ranks and find guys that would both be good enough to contribute to the team and stick around long enough to help fix the scholarship deficit.

The early signs were good, but the overall scholarship gains have been inconsistent. Career-ending injuries to key players didn’t help, but the problem was compounded by turning to the JUCO ranks to fill out his classes. This came to a head this last season when, in an attempt to get a bunch of wins this season and save his job, Beaty signed a class that was over 50% (11 of 20) JUCO players. Mike had an excellent breakdown of the class and how the strategy was reminiscent of the coach that Beaty replaced.

And in his season preview, Bill Connelly mentioned this problem and the cycle it creates:

To address this, Beaty is leaning on JUCO transfers. After trying to avoid them at first, he’s now signed 22 in his last two classes; that is a gamble that can sometimes pay off, but it makes you an addict — the more you lean on JUCOs, the more you have to continue leaning on JUCOs, since you only get these guys for a couple of years and you don’t have many five-year players.

Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal World laid out the scholarship situation earlier this year, and if everyone comes back, there will be 49 players on scholarship going into spring ball, only 10 more than Beaty had when he debuted. But Kansas football has been losing 13 players on average, and it is easy to make the case that they may lose even more due to the coaching change.

Let’s be generous and say that Kansas only loses 10 players due to the coaching change. That would put them on even footing with the team after Charlie Weis. Beaty’s first freshman class had 29 players in it, utilizing a tactic known as blueshirting to allow a player to join the program but count towards the next year’s scholarships. Since Beaty has used this tactic multiple times, the current recruiting class does not even have the full 25 scholarships available.

The new coach could also use this tactic to try and get close to the number of scholarship players we had going into 2015, but that would simply carry forward a scholarship deficit that KU will have to realize at some point. As best as I can tell, this deficit did not exist when Beaty took over, and so I think we can definitively say that Beaty has indeed made the scholarship situation worse than when he took over.

Given that fixing this was the main goal behind hiring someone with his qualifications, you can say that his tenure was not successful.

I’m not willing to say that he did absolutely nothing for the Jayhawk program during his time here, but when you evaluate him on the main criteria for which he was hired, recruiting first and a winning culture second, it’s basically impossible to say that the Jayhawks are in a better situation now than they were when he was hired.